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Expert blog: Five ways voluntary organisations can prepare for ongoing change

Following the results of the latest barometer which measures the health of the sector, Daniel King, Professor of Organization Studies at Nottingham Business School, and Sarah Vibert, Director of Public Policy and Volunteering, National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO), explore the steps that voluntary organisations might take to prepare for the challenges that lie ahead as they continue to adapt to the new normal and current lockdowns.

Hands holding a head silhouette with jigsaw pieces
A monthly survey uses real time data to assess how voluntary organisations are being impacted by the pandemic

If one thing's clear from the last few months, it's how fast the environment we work in is changing. From getting to grips with revised government guidance, to navigating last-minute national lockdowns, voluntary organisations need to be agile.

NCVO has seen countless examples of organisations – big and small – adapting and innovating as they respond to increasing demand for services alongside financial uncertainty and a changing regulatory environment.

In the face of these ongoing challenges, it’s more important than ever that charities and community organisations are prepared for change.

What helps organisations prepare for change?

Our research project funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) – Respond, recover, reset: the voluntary sector and Covid-19 – has also been exploring these issues.

A partnership between Nottingham Trent University, NCVO and Sheffield Hallam University, the project uses a monthly survey to provide real-time data on the impact of Covid-19 from hundreds of voluntary organisations across the UK.

Our latest survey asked organisations what helped them prepare for the national lockdown in November 2020. Two in five told us they needed greater access to emergency funding, and the same proportion asked for sector-specific government guidance in advance.

Encouragingly, our research also found that the majority of organisations (80%) felt more prepared for the November lockdown than they did in March. This is evidence of the sector’s ability to adapt.

We’re also gathering insight through in-depth interviews across the sector to understand how organisations are responding to the situation. This evidence and ongoing insights from NCVO members has helped us to identify key tips to help organisations prepare for change.

Five ways organisations can prepare for ongoing change

1. Put the basics in place. If you already have good policies and processes in place, adapting to change becomes easier. We’ve seen this in the areas of digital preparedness and volunteering. With good systems in place to recruit, support, manage and retain volunteers, it can be much easier to act under pressure.

2. Build a supportive culture. Organisations with strong relationships among staff and volunteers are best placed to handle a crisis. It's a mistake to think that work to support staff wellbeing and inclusion should be side-lined during these times. Organisations should focus on this now more than ever, not least because of the stresses in the external environment. Read ACEVO’s reports on workforce wellbeing in charities and undoing racism and delivering real diversity for the sector.

3. Grow your networks. At a time when many of us are physically isolated, it’s important to build alliances. This includes learning from how similar organisations are adapting and reaching out to professional networks for guidance on regulatory changes.

4. Seize the opportunities that change brings. We’ve seen how crucial an organisation’s ethos is in helping it navigate this rapidly-evolving time. Staff and trustee boards need to learn and adapt. Prepared organisations have often seen the last few months as an opportunity to reflect on how they can better meet the needs of their stakeholders, work more collaboratively and have more impact. For many, changes that would normally have taken years have happened in a matter of weeks – such as the rapid shift to digital technology.

5. Invest in leadership. Good governance has been never more needed than in recent times, as many boards and senior staff teams have had to make difficult decisions. It’s critical that leadership work together, make effective and timely decisions, and communicate these well. Find out more about the Charity Governance Code

NCVO is continuing to support members by translating government guidance into clear guidance for the voluntary sector. As part of the #NeverMoreNeeded coalition it has also set out a five-point plan on how the government can better support the financial needs of charities in response to Covid-19. For more advice and guidance, visit NCVO Knowhow

This month our research is looking at how volunteering is changing during the pandemic. Tell us how Covid-19 is impacting your organisation by taking our latest survey.

Contact the Centre for People, Work and Organisational Practice at Nottingham Business School to find out more.

  • Notes for editors

    Press enquiries please contact Helen Breese, Public Relations Manager, on telephone +44 (0)115 848 8751, or via email.

    About Nottingham Trent University

    Nottingham Trent University (NTU) was named University of the Year 2019 in the Guardian University Awards. The award was based on performance and improvement in the Guardian University Guide, retention of students from low-participation areas and attainment of BME students.

    NTU was also the Times Higher Education University of the Year 2017, and The Times and Sunday Times Modern University of the Year 2018. These awards recognise NTU for its high levels of student satisfaction, its quality of teaching, its engagement with employers, and its overall student experience.

    The university has been rated Gold in the Government’s Teaching Excellence Framework – the highest ranking available.

    It is one of the largest UK universities. With nearly 32,000 students and more than 4,000 staff located across four campuses, the University contributes £900m to the UK economy every year. With an international student population of more than 3,000 from around 100 countries, the University prides itself on its global outlook.

    The university is passionate about creating opportunities and its extensive outreach programme is designed to enable NTU to be a vehicle for social mobility. NTU is among the UK’s top five recruiters of students from disadvantaged backgrounds and was awarded University of the Year in the UK Social Mobility Awards 2019.

    A total of 82% of its graduates go on to graduate entry employment or graduate entry education or training within six months of leaving. Student satisfaction is high: NTU achieved an 87% satisfaction score in the 2020 National Student Survey, above the sector average of 83%.

Expert blog: Five ways voluntary organisations can prepare for ongoing change

Published on 22 January 2021
  • Category: Press office; Research; Nottingham Business School

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